Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ocham on Vallicella and Scotus on Future Contingents

Our friend Ocham has a good post which includes a bit of Scotus on two different ways of referring to future contingents. He translates the following passage:

It must be understood that a proposition about the future can be understood to signify something in the future in two ways. So that the proposition about the future signifies it to be true now that something in the future will have to be true [verum esse habebit] (for example, that ‘you will be white at a’ signifies it now to be in reality so that at time a you will be white). Or it can be understood that it signifies now that you will be white then: not that it signifies that it is now such that then you are going to be white, but that it signifies now that then you will be white. For to signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a, signifies more than to signify that you will be white at a.

So Scotus notes two possible ways of talking about the future:

1) I say what the future is determined to be: "It is now true that tomorrow you will be white".

2) I say something determinate about the future, which at the moment is indeterminate: "I am now saying that tomorrow you will be white", even if what is true now is that tomorrow you may be white or you may be red.

Saying that I think that things will turn out so-and-so is not the same thing as saying that there is something in reality now which determines that in the future things will be so-and-so, but that I think that, when the causal determinators determine how things turn out, they will end up making things so-and-so rather than such-and-such.

And we have to distinguish between statements like:

a) "In three years grass will still be green"


b) "In three years Obama will still be President of the U.S".

(a) is in one sense a future contingent. It may turn out in three years that there is no more grass, or that there is a massive drought and all the grass is yellow or brown. But "grass is green" will still be true in the sense that greenness will still belong to the essence of grass, even if no existing grass can actualize that essential property due to accidental circumstances. (a) is really not a statement about a given moment or time period at all, but a statement about the nature of grass, which is invariant across all the times in which grass exists in its normal state. It's analogous to "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", which taken by itself is not so much about nomenclature as about horticulture.

But (b) is different. Obama's being President will be a purely contingent fact, since it is not in the nature of anything for that to be the case, but will be due only to the aggregate of choices voters will by then have made. So when I (as I would if I were a pundit) say that Obama will or will not be President after the next election, I'm saying that I think most voters will end up making a certain choice; I'm not saying that (since the truth about the future is determinate) there will be no choices, or that they have already made their choices. Rather, every such projection carries with it the implicit caveat, "If current trends continue . . ."


01010101 said...

Strip away the jargon and this is mostly a pseudo issue (and about probability--eg, weather forecasting -- not the supposed holy modality).

Edward Ockham said...

It should be noted that this early treatment by Scotus is different from his later treatment.

His mature doctrine, which Calvin Normore has called ‘the contingency of the present’ is set out in Book I, d.39 of the Lectura (the first of the two Oxford commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard), where he claims that although God knows the future, it is nevertheless contingent, and while the past is necessary, there is no necessity in the present. Even if it is now the case that p, it might not now be the case that p.

It is thought that he was the first scholastic philosopher to allow for alternative possibilities at a given time.

The doctrine proposed here has been taken as evidence by some that Scotus was not the author of the Questions on the Perihermenias.

Edward Ockham said...

>>about probability--eg, weather forecasting -- not the supposed holy modality

Quis est iste qui venit

01010101 said...

Que sera, sera??

About the same sentiment. Ay, la puta, Madame Fortuna!

Michael Sullivan said...

I don't see anything here that contradicts synchronic contingency. But I haven't gone to check the context.

If I recall correctly Vos argues that synchronic contingency just emerged in Scotus' thinking gradually. That seems plausible enough.

I don't agree that the issue is about probability. Whether I'll buy coffee before teaching tomorrow is not a matter of probability but a matter of calculation and decision. There may be a probability involved - there's a 40% chance I'll buy the coffee because that's how frequently I do - but the probability is totally unilluminative as to the reason why I will or will not act, just as my acting now is a data point for indicating the probability of the present action but is not itself caused by the probability of its happening.

Edward Ockham said...

>>I don't see anything here that contradicts synchronic contingency. But I haven't gone to check the context.

(1) Synchronic contingency is a competing explanation with what Scotus says here.

(2) In another part of this early work I did not quote, Scotus explicitly denies synchronic contingency. See the bit below beginning "sicut nunc non stant". Normore mentions this somewhere.

dico quod non stant simul quod haec nunc sit determinate vera 'hoc erit' et quod 'hoc potest non fore'; quia si haec nunc sit determinate vera 'tu eris albus cras' - **sicut nunc non stant simul quod 'tu es albus nunc' et 'tu potes nunc non esse albus' -, sic non stant simul quod nunc sit verum quod 'tu eris albus cras' et quod 'tu possis non esse albus cras'.

01010101 said...

Whether I'll buy coffee before teaching tomorrow is not a matter of probability but a matter of calculation and decision.

To you, perhaps--but the discussion started with statements regarding the weather, or stock market etc. There are IMO truthmakers of a sort--at least probable truth conditions-- for weather forecasting--ie, future contingent statements on the upcoming week/month's temperatures, rain,etc.--and parameters one might say. Those conditions would per Armstrong's cause someone (say a climatologist) to state..."temps in the 60s, scattered showers," etc.
It won't be the Arctic in LA .

In a sense the older nominalism (insofar that Occam IIRC claimed propositions about future events are neither true or false) seems ...wrong. We certainly know that water freezes at C.--the prob. being 1.--that gasoline ignites, that your rose bushes will bloom roses, that all men are mortal..ceteris paribus as yall say. Yo sounds nearly Aristotelian (with sigma signs)

And to the coffee vendors-- or say economists/sociologists studying coffee-consumption--it's a matter of probability.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the addition of Perezoso, a raving anti-Catholic and anti-Semite, will do wonders for the discourse on this blog. :(

01010101 said...

Perezoso? J? Making things up again Anny aka Nurse Byro, AZ-druggie. Im not a raving anti-catholic, you are! (lets link to some of your pro-LDS and occultist fun). Maybe finish that RN, scientologist boy, and like check the wiki on syllogisms.

Edward Ockham said...

>>Quis est iste qui venit

What I meant by this was, who is 01010101? Haven't we seen him somewhere before?

Michael Sullivan said...

Yes, he certainly does strike a familiar tone.

01010101 said...

respond to the issue---truth conditions (or "makers') exist for future "contingent" propositions. Certainly some. In fact, many. Games of chance for one. There is however a limit to what one could say, truthfully at least. The chance of rolling a 6 with one dice is 16.67 %. With two dice rolling 12 ,
it's 1/36, about 2.8 % . Roll 10,000 times or so for empirical confirmation.

Scholastics refuted! Perhaps no, but does show that future events are NOT, per Ockham, neither true nor false.

01010101 said...

Anyway, those who don't want to engage philosophy or logic in a a non-dogmatic manner can always resort to ...latin grammar lessons. What izz that? Ad Verecundiam, IIRC.

never been to Oxford-town...

01010101 said...

....Is quisnam est albus hodie ero albus cras.

Ionni Eques